Over the Thanksgiving holiday (between shopping trips with my sister), I finished two books that—though extremely different in terms of worldview, tone, and plot—feature the love, loyalty, and competition of sisters.
My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult is the current selection of my church book club. It’s the story of a family surviving from one cancer relapse to the next. The author has done extensive medical research, introducing the reader to the symptoms, treatments, and terminology of a rare form of leukemia. To provide multiple viewpoints on the situation, Picoult rotates the first-person narration among at least 7 characters—including the sick girl’s bone marrow-donating sister, her desperate parents, and the lawyer she hires to sue them for medical emancipation when they insist she donate a kidney. The characterization feels contrived at times. Nearly every character pursues some form of self-destructive behavior—not a stretch, given the pressure they face—but then seems to overcome it with relative ease after a surprising plot twist that one might expect to send them over the final edge. The family’s suffering is tangible, but the story offers no hope. It raises significant bioethical questions, but, with no divine standards to shape the answers, the highest value comes down to personal choice.
A very different book, recommended by my friend Diana Frazier, is Rhoda Huffey’s The Hallelujah Side, a rollicking novel about an imaginative girl coming of age in the 1950s in an Assemblies of God community. The Fish family is affectionate, sincere, generous, even as they stand in judgment of Sinners, whom they identify by their lipstick and Capri pants! (Roxy cannot be sure her sister is “going up,” since she hides her Tangerine Kiss lipgloss in a tree.) The vocabulary is saturated with classic hymns and the King James Bible, second nature to Huffey, whose parents were Pentecostal preachers. The dialogue is downright hysterical. Some of my favorite lines:
Roxy and her father both looked up. “Holy Guacamole” was not exactly swearing, as guacamole was not part of the Godhead, whatever guacamole was, but calling it holy was idol worship.
“Oh!” Zelda Fish gave Colleen the evil eye. “If I hear you’re being Catholic while we’re gone?”
Pecan Street sported sinners’ houses filled with lost souls who did not even bother to go to the wrong church.
“God isn’t afraid of guns,” said Zelda Fish. “He invented them.”
If you have ever been part of a conservative Christian church, you’ll find Huffey’s book self-correcting yet affirming, and very funny.